Ice Cube for the 2022 Winter Games

Beijing’s National Aquatics Center, popularly known as the water cube, will be transformed as an Ice Cube for the 2022 Winter Games.  This iconic structure was built using ETFE membrane as the building’s skin.  Such skin can breathe and accommodate changes in user requirements with ease.

2008 Beijing Summer Olympics

The water cube was one of two structures at the 2008 Summer Olympics that captivated people’s imagination.  The other building was the Bird’s nest.  Both buildings were made possible because of the rise of digital media which allows construction of buildings involving complex curves and geometries.  The water cube has also demonstrated that the focus has shifted from the skeleton of the building to its skin.  Beijing is increasingly becoming a destination for the world class architecture such as the new Starfish international airport.

Breathable skin with ETFE membrane

New materials such as the ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) membrane can allow light, heat, touch, and mechanical stress while remaining translucent and mutable.  The inspiration for developing new materials comes from the study of human skin, which is a complex system consisting several layers of biological matter with their equally complex interrelationships.  The ETFE membrane is actually made up of large pressurized cushions which act as inflated cavity walls. 

Construction field mockup showing the exterior envelope
Construction field mockup showing the exterior envelope 1

The skin patterns

The construction field mockup of the skin structure shows a double layer envelope with a 3D Vierendeel space frame in between.  The skin pattern mimics the pattern of soap bubbles which tend to follow multisided polyhedral geometry.  The gap between the outer and inner layers of the wall system is approximately 12 feet, while the gap in the roof system is approximately 24 feet.  The interior space between the ETFE envelopes permits movement of conditioned air as well as lighting and other environmental controls. 

Earthquake resistant structure

The 3D Vierendeel space frame consists of 22,000 tubular steel members and 22,000 nodes.  It is made up of repetitive geometric polyhedrons.  The structure is ductile to allow minor movement without collapse in case of an earthquake. 

Interior view of the Water Cube
Interior view of the Water Cube 2

Dramatic transformation

The Water Cube will undergo dramatic transformation to work as an Ice Cube to host the curling events for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.  It would feature a transferable rink for curling events, a new ice-making system, and a new environmental monitoring system to monitor interior temperature, humidity and lighting.  It will demonstrate how buildings can transform themselves to accommodate new needs without undergoing major structural upgrades. 

  • Title image:  The Water Cube with the Bird’s Nest in the background.  Alberto Alerigi, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons
  • 1   Construction field mockup showing the exterior envelope.  xiaming, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons
  • 2   Interior view of the Water Cube.  Arne Müseler /, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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